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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - N° 93,  December 2003, pp. 5-7

Presentation of the Fifth World Congress

for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees


Since 1979 our Pontifical Council has convoked a World Congress for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees every five years. These gatherings have a particular character, something unique in the world of those concerned with migration, namely an intimate connection with the pastoral concerns of the Universal Church and of the Holy Father in particular. Our Council, as a Dicastery of the Roman Curia, assists the Holy Father in his mission of confirming his brothers and sisters in faith, love and hope. Its official activities, like a World Congress, are carried out with his permission and blessing. They thus become expressions of the listening, teaching, and action of the Church that lives and exercises its mission, sharing “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted” (GS 1).  

Not by chance, each day of the Congress began at the Tables of the Word and the Eucharist, celebrated at the Tomb of Peter, with the participation of the bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful entrusted with the pastoral responsibility of eighty-nine Local Churches for migrants and refugees. This was a sign of communion among themselves and with the Successor of Peter and in a special way of what the Congress was trying to promote: “beginning afresh from Christ” (NMI 29-41), being renewed in this sacrament, and being confirmed in the courage to stake everything on the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ, always with the light of the Magisterium of the Church.

 The Congress was celebrated in the context of the situation of migrants and refugees that has continued evolving in the last five years. This is evident on several counts, first of all, in the process of globalization with its positive and negative effects, including that of encouraging – and even forcing – migration. Second, while migration realities of the past five years are no less dramatic than before, coverage in the popular media remains selective and often negative, thus not permitting an in-depth and truly global appreciation of the phenomenon for the general public. This weighs heavily on the challenges and duties facing local ecclesial communities as they develop their pastoral responsibility towards the migrant in general. Third, our history has entered a new millennium, marked not only by September 11th and an increased fear of foreigners, but also by the theological and pastoral vision offered us by Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte, three of whose leitmotifs determined the movement of the Congress.  

This interpretation of the new millennium also explains the special pastoral character of this Congress. Yearly there are thousands of meetings about migrants and refugees, but only a few reflect on related pastoral issues. The daily mission among migrants and refugees, which likewise aims at their integral human development, is seldom something that attracts the attention of the media. This specific area of pastoral care, owing to the better known humanitarian and legal issues closely connected with it, is something that needs continual development in its practice and theology as well as publicity. The Congress was intended to be an encouragement in that direction.

These Proceedings are dedicated to those who participated in the Congress as well as those who were included in its discussions and prayer. In the first place these are migrants, foreign students, refugees, and displaced people who share the full communion of faith with us or are Christians or believers of other religions. They are not simply “objects” of pastoral care but, in the wide sense of this term, “subjects.” The Catholic faithful among them (re)build community far from home, educate their children for the future, bind up the physical and spiritual wounds of their fellow travellers, and enrich and even revitalize the ecclesial communities that receive them. These Proceedings are, of course, primarily for the bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful who daily help bear the burden of their migrating brothers and sisters, those who forcefully remind us that we are a Pilgrim Church. Among them are also those whose cooperation with other Churches and Ecclesial Communities for the sake of migrants and refugees promotes the unity of the Church for which Jesus Christ prayed and offered his life. Pastoral agents who, among many activities, welcome migrants of other religions with the love of Christ should also feel included as they engage especially in that dialogue of life that assures the name of God is a source of peace.

May this record of the Fifth World Congress keep alive and encourage the development of the reflections and paths for action indicated in the excellent reflections and edifying testimonies and experiences that enriched us during its five full days. And may our efforts be inspired and formed by the Spirit of the Risen Lord, who daily calls us to begin our mission afresh from him.

                                                          + Stephen Fumio Cardinal Hamao


                                                                                 + Archbishop Agostino Marchetto